An exclusive excerpt from The Ordinary Chaos of Being Human- Tales from many Muslim worlds, editedby Marguerite Richards. (Published by Penguin SEA in November2020)
Excerpt from the Foreword by Bina Shah
What we see in this collection of stories are people, in an echo of the Hidden Treasure concept, considering their own lives and experiences as hidden treasures that they love and long to make known. The writing in this anthology, then, is deeply spiritual even without an overt claim to religion, because it fulfils one of the strongest precepts of humanity: knowing and recognition. Each story is a glimpse into a constructed or reconstructed world that is completely authentic and true; it offers the opportunity for a kind of witnessing into the life of an individual and the circumstances of that human’s ecosystem. And in turn, to set off the recognition of universal human experience.
Just like humans, no story is quite like any other. These tales purport to reveal something about the Muslim world or worlds; take away the word ‘Muslim’ though, and couldn’t these stories come from anywhere? Couldn’t these people be any people, in any land or time? Or is it that these people, these stories, can only be produced by these particular times, in these particular circumstances? Picking up this collection is like lifting a gem to the light and examining it this way and that so the light reflects its different facets, to shine on a universal truth: that no matter what the condition or circumstances, every person is a human treasure longing to be known.
An exclusive excerpt from Fractured Forest, Quartzite City by Thomas Crowley, jointly published by SAGE Publications and Yoda Press under the Yoda-SAGE Select imprint. (Published in September2020)
Spirits: Transcendence, Sacred and Secular
Love of marijuana is yet another commonality linking the Sufis to the yogis. In many of the tantric texts, the virtues of the intoxicating plant are extolled. One text avers that marijuana is essential to ecstasy. The plant is referred to as “victory” and “Gorakhnath’s root”.And, as Sufis gather at Qutb Sahib’s shrine to smoke, sway and (occasionally) scream and shout, groups of Nath Siddhas convene close by, on the northern edges of Sanjay Van, where three Gorakhnath Mandirs have been erected.
One of these temples, by far the biggest, adjoins the main road and regularly holds large gatherings, culminating in a biannual mela that draws significant crowds. The smallest of the temples, by contrast, is just a low brick wall surrounding several idols, protected by a solitary priest who sleeps beside the temple in a makeshift tent. The third temple combines the remoteness of the small mandir with the sociality of the big one. It is set back, away from the paved roads, in the midst of the jungle of Sanjay Van. It houses a small community of Nath yogis, who receive regular visits from devout Hindus residing in the nearby neighborhoods.
An exclusive excerpt from Bride of the Forest: The Untold Story of Yayati’s Daughter by Madhavi S. Mahadevan. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2020.
The forest was already a lush, tangled dream. In the runny light of dawn what appeared surreal to the girl’s eyes was the city of Pratisthan—the yellow of its brick walls, the disarray of its streets. The citizens were still abed. The network of narrow, paved alleyways was silent but for the sighs from the night just spent. However, the smells lingered and gossiped of the frenzied drinking and dancing, of clandestine desires and sated hungers, of enticement, seduction and indulgence. In the street of the courtesans, bruised garlands of marigold and jasmine drifted in sluggish drains. A tambourine lay in a pool of vomit. At the city’s intersections stood enormous clay lamps that had burned bright all night, but now held curls of blackened wicks, like stillborn worms. The only signs of life were the lean, brown stray dogs scavenging through animal innards and fishbones.
An excerpt from Piece of War: Narratives of Resilience and Hope by Meha Dixit, published by SAGE Publications India. (2020, 292 pages, Paperback: Rs. 450 (ISBN: 978-93-5388-506-9), SAGE Select.)
Chapter 7: Resilience, Coping and Hope
Lebanon-Syria Border: 2019
It was a freezing day in the border town of Lebanon in the Bekka Valley, which was located just a few kilometers from the Syrian border. Imran, the taxi driver stopped the car near a settlement of Syrian refugees. Few men were standing in the dusty field outside the shelters covered with tarpaulin. Little children, mostly girls, possibly in the age group of 5 to 13 years, who were ambling across the ochre field speckled with stones, came running towards the vehicle. While some raised their hands to wave at me, radiating exuberant smiles, others chuckled playfully covering their faces with their palms. Some children began to speak in Arabic and chuckled again. “This is Anjar settlement of the Syrian refugees,” Imran pointed out. While I attempted to interact with the children in broken Arabic, Imran spoke to the men outside the shelters, who then asked me to come in.
A glimpse from A Plate of White Marble originally written by Bani Basu in Bengali as Swet Patharer Thala and translated by Nandia Guha (Published by Niyogi Books, 2020)
There was no consolation. Yet Bandana repeatedly read the letter from one end to the other. She remembered everything— from holding Kaka’s hand and going to attend Gandhiji’s lectures in Deshbandhu Park to putting coins in the trunks of elephants and looking at giraffes at the zoo. She could easily picture those cold Sunday mornings when they used to reach Esplanade, peeling oranges all the way. Kaka smoked very strong cigarettes. The fingers of his right hand were yellow with nicotine stains. When Bandana was small, she was under the impression that all Kakas would have coppery yellow fingertips.
A Kaka surely meant someone in whom this feature was an integral part, inseparable from his image.
When her mother died young, Kaka immediately decided not to marry and start a family. Baba had tried to persuade him to change his decision. Kaka had the same argument every time, ‘Dada, this child is so naughty, you will never be able to manage her on your own. If this girl is to be brought up well, I will have to join you in taking charge of her.’
A glimpse from Brink originally written by S.L. Bhyrappa in Kannada as Anchu and translated by R. Ranganath Prasad. (Published by Niyogi Books, 2020)
She sought no more details. In a mood to relieve himself by spilling out everything if queried, her stillness cut him off from relating any further. By such time, her hands had retreated away from his. He gathered that she was perturbed by his declarations. Beyond the shade of the mango tree beneath which they were sitting, the static touch of the sun seemed to mutually repel all and sundry. He sat silently. With a facial expression that increased the intensity of the stillness around, she looked up to the skies. After a short while, she was on her feet. ‘I am leaving. If you come along, I will drop you.’ He felt dejected. ‘You may leave yourself.’ She now turned towards him. Her eyes were feral. He chose not to face her sight. Reflecting that she merited neither eyeing nor being eyed, he turned to the ravine that was being ravaged by Helios. After half a minute, she said, ‘And that’s all?’ He turned to her. With both her hands, she removed the royal-jasmine string from her plait and flung it with all her might onto the scorching rock. Then she looked at him. He continued to be mute.
“Pack” from And the Walls Come Crumbling Down by Tania De Rozario (Gaudy Boy, 2020)
It’s rainy season by the time I’ve booked my flight and the weather is seeping into every aspect of my life. Above and around the house, it pours. Plastic groundsheets line the floor and plastic buckets catch drips from my leaky ceiling. Nothing seems to hold water these days and I feel as though I, too, am leaking. This is the fourth house since leaving my mother’s flat. Occupied for less than a month and already it is purging me out.
We thought this had been the one. But then again, for eight hundred dollars, any house would have been the one. You and I shared two rooms—one to sleep in and one to work in. We sublet the rest of the house to other artists who used the third room and the kitchen as workspaces. It was the ideal home. A place everybody could afford, in which beautiful things were created every day.
An interesting glimpse of this book- Delhi in Historical Perspectives by Late Professor K. A. Nizami and Dr Ather Farouqui based on the fascinating and chequered history of the city of Delhi. (Oxford University Press, 2020)
Like the personality and thoughts of Ghalib, the history of Delhi had two distinct periods. The events of 1857 caused a dramatic break from the past for Delhi and its inhabitants. In its 800-year-long history, Delhi had changed its form many times—Siri, Kilokeri, Tughlaqabad, Ferozabad, and Shahjehanabad to name but a few of its incarnations—but each was an added layer which seamlessly connected with the past. The events of 1857 shattered the historical links with the past and Delhi was, as English poet Matthew Arnold has said in a different context, ‘wandering between two worlds, one dead the other powerless to be born’. Ghalib too suffered the tribulations of Delhi. The old Delhi was breathing its last and the new had not yet been conceived. The Ghalib from before 1857 was entirely different from the the one after it. For the inhabitants of Delhi, it was difficult to make sense of a present that bore no relation to the recent past. Ghalib opens up his wounds to friends thus:
Saheb, do you understand what the matter is and what has happened? That was a birth when both of us were friends and there was an exchange of love and affection in our dealings with each other. Together we recited our poetry, compiled our works … suddenly the times changed; no more were those friends, that cordiality, mutual discourse, happiness. Afterwards there was the rebirth, albeit the forms of the two were exactly the same. That is, the city where I am bears the name of Delhi and the locality of Ballimaran is also the same, but I do not find the friends of my earlier birth.
A glimpse from Anuja Chandramouli’s Mohini – The Enchantress (Published by Rupa Publications India, 2020)
Prelude: A Hint of Hope Borne on a Dream
The storytellers tended to go into raptures describing her sublime, flawless beauty, waxing eloquent about the perfection of her form and features, not to mention the heaviness of her bosom, supported as it was by an impossibly narrow waist. Captivating eyes with so much depth that most wanted nothing better than to plunge into those twin orbs, exploring the secrets within for the rest of time; lustrous tresses that cascaded in waves of silk, nearly caressing the earth over which she glided with effortless grace; luscious lips that mischievously promised endless delights and so on and so forth.
Though they were mostly males who could not or did not want to look beyond the sumptuous perfection of her physical attributes, none of it was an exaggeration. For she was bewitching and her beauty had a power of its own, which could simply not be discounted. And yet, when it came right down to it, her beauty was almost beside the point.
A glimpse from A Bend in Time – Writings by Children on the Covid-19 Pandemic (Published by Talking Cub, children’s imprint of Speaking Tiger, 2020)
Introduction by Bijal Vachharajani
Right now, according to the good folx at UNESCO, globally about 1.3 billion children and youth are at home, as schools and colleges shut to try to control the COVID-19 pandemic. The children in this book’s pages are among them. As is most probably you, the reader.
These twelve children and young adults reflect so many thoughts, questions, narratives. The depth of their thoughts doesn’t astound me—children are way smarter than groan-ups. But not all children get to tell their stories. Not all of them have access to the Internet, to facilities, to online schooling, to socially distanced homes and neighbourhoods. While some are safe at home, so many have had to walk for miles to get to their homes. Inequalities have come to the forefront, and it’s vital that privilege be examined and challenged. And so many children in this book are thinking about that.